Dr. Miriam Potocky – a novelist too
Dr. Miriam Potocky, who is a specialist in refugee resettlement, human rights, international social work, and research methodology was recently featured in an article published in The Palm Beach Post. Yes, she is also a novelist!
Professor by day, novelist at night
Later, it was her father. When Soviet tanks rumbled down their suburban street in Prague during the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, he packed the family’s possessions into two suitcases in the middle of the night to begin a covert journey to America.
And then, there was Clint Eastwood.
When Potocky was trying to piece together her life after escaping an abusive marriage, she found an unlikely hero in Dirty Harry. His character inspired a crime-fighting, Harley Davidson-riding reformed “Boca babe” who solves mysteries with her wits and her .44 Magnum in the pages of Potocky’s award-winning “Dirty Harriet” novels.
“She’s the braver version of me,” said Potocky, who pens the novels under the name Miriam Auerbach. “She says all the things I can’t really say.”
Which is saying something for a woman, 51, who has reimagined herself from immigrant child to former biker babe to tenured university professor and novelist. The lesson being that if a hero is not close by, Potocky will conjure one out of thin air.
Felt like ‘an alien’
Potocky still fondly remembers the months she spent in New York City after she emigrated from Prague. But her father soon moved them to Denver in the hopes of finding a smaller, quieter city with steady work.
There Potocky’s accent made her an outsider the second she opened her mouth.
“I felt like an alien,” she said.
In her nightmares, she could still feel the rumble of the Soviet tanks and woke up with the memory of hiding under the dining room table with her brother.
“You’re sitting on this quiet, suburban street where nothing ever happens and suddenly these tanks come rolling through,” she recalls.
She pursued academia in quiet desperation and eventually graduated fourth in a class of 800, a world apart.
She was accepted into the prestigious Colorado School of Mines, which specializes in engineering and applied sciences. She was fascinated with theoretical particle physics.
But that was before an internship at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where she saw science applied to the machinations of war. She had seen enough war in her life.
Biking the back roads
At about the same time, she met a Methodist minister at a church camp when she was 18. But this was no ordinary preacher. She says he was a Harley-riding, bad boy suffused with wanderlust.
So after transferring to the University of Colorado to study social work, she married the motorcycle preacher. And she spent the next 12 years of marriage cruising America on the back of a hog while going to school, thinking she finally understood what it meant to be an American.
“Because that Harley world is quintessentially American,” she said.
They eventually moved to the Midwest, where Potocky earned a doctorate in social science from the University of Kansas.
Meanwhile, the dark side of her husband’s lifestyle emerged.
Drugs led to physical abuse, she says. She was terrified of his outbursts. The breaking point came one night, after an argument, when she ran for the front door just ahead of him throwing a glass vase overhead.
“I was at that point where I said, ‘I’m either going to leave or I’m going to die,’~HOA~128~128~” she said.
She divorced him, and took stock of her life. She realized she wanted to dedicate her working life to people like her, a child of immigrants, and moved to take a job as a Florida International University professor.
Dirty Harry as woman?
She went back to Czechoslovakia with her father and reconnected with her roots. She returned over the course of several years and those emotional trips became a memoir, “Where is My Home?” which she self-published — but which also sparked a deeper interest in writing.
One night, while watching Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” on TV, his character resonated with her for the first time.
“What if Dirty Harry was a woman?” she thought. “Then, the whole character made sense to me.”
During the next three years, she crafted the character of Dirty Harriet, a sort-of refugee from an abusive relationship.
Cathartic? Consider that Dirty Harriet — the former Boca Raton socialite Harriet Horowitz — blows away her abusive coke-addicted sleazeball lawyer husband with a .44 Magnum on the first page of her first novel.
There have been two sequels, including one which launches this fall, and she is writing a fourth. With each book, Potocky more completely inhabits Dirty Harriet as she solves crimes all over South Florida.
“I lived so much injustice, I felt my life should be about promoting social justice,” she said.
Potocky has since remarried to David Rafaidus, whose Slavic family escaped the Holocaust to Detroit. He’s her biggest fan, pitching her books to everyone.
“She writes things, and I can relate to them,” said Rafaidus, her husband of four years. “Each day with Marian, seeing what she does, it’s inspiring, exciting. What Marian does really makes a difference.”
On Potocky’s writing desk, which overlooks a nature preserve, is the Clint Eastwood “Do you feel lucky?” quote.
And she does feel lucky — to find heroes in the unlikeliest of places.
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